Article V of the Augsburg Confession & Preaching—from Pastor Donavon Riley

Pastor Donavon Riley wrote this in 2011. It’s very informative and greatly helped my class prep for tonight’s discussion on Article V. I recommend that you read what he wrote. When you’re done, subscribe to his blog for more sweet Lutheran goodness. 


Article V of the Augsburg Confession states: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the Gospel and the sacraments” (German). That means, no more prophets who have the Spirit fall on them one day so they can go out and bring about repentance, no more temple sacrifice and Levitical priesthood, and no more covenant signs like circumcision. All these “means” have now become “old” on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Instead, the office of preaching offers something entirely “new” in the form of a public service where God gives his Word and sacraments to sinners as through means (German) or instruments (Latin). Thus, the Augsburg Confession understands ministry as an instrument, – not a “co-redeemer” – a holy instrument played by the Holy Spirit.

God institutes this office of preaching by sending his Son, who is the living Word, to be a preacher: preaching forgiveness, cross, and resurrection. Jesus then gives his words to those he calls, authorizing them to preach what he preached, and so the preacher becomes the preached. That is, “we preach Christ and him crucified.”

Through these preachers, preaching the two words of law and the Gospel “he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.” Equally as important for this confession, then, is the assertion that the Holy Spirit never speaks a word apart from or in addition to Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God lets the letter of law kill, and then gives life. Through the office of preaching alone the Spirit does this. The office of preaching is therefore the fulcrum of the universe, “not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, [who] justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ.” (Latin).

An important matter must now be addressed because here, at this point, the old Adam will attempt to assert himself and make the office anecdotal, but killing and making alive is never the preacher’s job as a personal responsibility. Killing and making alive is what the Holy Spirit is doing with the preacher who is God’s instrument.

Therefore, Article V continues, condemned are the Anabaptists and others (German and Latin) “who think that the Holy Spirit comes to human beings without the external Word through their own preparations and works” (Latin). That the Holy Spirit works in this particular way, apart from “their own preparations and works,” through preaching, has greatly disturbed this old world and its normal religions. Why?

Because the Word of God is both external (which angers the Anabaptists) and a Word (which angers the Papists). So it is not the Eucharist as the pinnacle of the sacramental system that makes the true church, but oral preaching and the giving of the sacraments as proclamation. Such as assertion, both Anabaptists and Papists alike have argued, is an attempt at constraining the Spirit. But Lutherans say, “on the contrary, the Spirit has never been freer!” “We have the Word of God apart from false-preachers who claim to have swallowed the Spirit – feathers and all, and apart from false assurances of an Episcopal institution that claims the Spirit for their human traditions – magisterium and all.”

Now, here is where Philip Melanchthon used a diplomatic slight of hand in Article V. He points his finger points directly at the Anabaptists for rejecting the external Word, thinking that the Holy Spirit comes directly and apart from Christ, in some secret inner movement, and so through “our own works and preparations.” But then the article adds, “and others,” like a blank line, where one can write himself in, if the shoe fits! By doing this Philip points also to the papal opponents for whom the sticking point with Lutherans was and will always be not that they hold to an “external,” word but, the “Word” alone.

For Melanchthon and the German Reformers the Word is the prevenient means of grace. Prevenient means, according to the Marburg Articles, Article 8, “On the External Word”: “The Holy Spirit, properly speaking, gives this faith or his gift to no one apart from preceding preaching,” (in direct contradiction of the Scholastic theologians who talked about the “preceding merit” of the person before final grace), because the externally preached Word of God comes before faith.

Previously, when free will was imagined, by the Scholastic theologians, as the main issue regarding sin, then words had a secondary place in salvation: after all, it was argued, what do words do for a human will that has gone bad? Answer: They exhort, encourage, prod, and scold. That means the Word of God did not make anything, it did not give Jesus, it did not establish a relationship, it only talked about God to a human will and hoped it would respond. The Scholastic theologians taught that justification is a gift, to be sure, but the Word of God never gives it. On the other hand, God’s Word, the Reformers contended, “will not return to him empty” (Isaiah 55; Hebrews 4:12) for the Word is a living, active thing “sharper than any two edged sword.”

Finally, for Melanchthon and the German Reformers, God has put his Word in a specific office, specifically located in the middle of creaturely life. His Word comes as a permanent interruption of the old Adam’s assumed life, killing him in order to raise him as a new Christ. The crux of the matter then is that in Christian preaching “everything in heaven, and earth, and under the earth” must be defined and distinguished in the crucified and resurrected body of Christ Jesus as old and new if one is to be certain he is hearing the true Word of God. In this way, through the office of preaching, God sends his inescapable Word: living, incarnate, deep in the flesh, so deep Christ Jesus never comes out. In this way, “as through means,” faith is created, bringing with it comfort, consolation, and certainty that the old sinner is justified and has received grace for Christ’s sake.


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